Thursday, 18 August 2011

Day 48: Lady Bountiful's Legacy

Without actually meaning to collect them as such, I have a fair number of delightful old books around the topic of cooking and/or housekeeping.  Some I have picked up in secondhand shops over the years, but quite a few of them were rescued from my grandmother's house when she moved in with my mother.  This includes the very wonderful 1001 Pudding Recipes from 1913, which I maintain would be better titled, 1001 Things to Do with an Apple

These books have taken on a new interest in my attempt to live without some of the more expensive modern commodities.  So much so, that I intend to profile some of them over the coming months, beginning with the grandmother of them all: Lady Bountiful's Legacy.

It sounds like a taudry novelette.  But, as it turns out, Lady Bountiful is the pseudonym of some busybody from the reign of Queen Anne, who was resurrected by an equally busy Victorian body as a vehicle for their musings on home economy.  This book was an ill-conceived 1881 Arithmetic Prize, "open to all the school" but clearly destined for some favourite girl, which was in the event won by my unfortunate great-grandfather.  According to its own subtitle, it is A Book of Practical Instructions & Duties, Counsels & Experiences, Anecdotes, Hints, & Recipes, in Housekeeping & Domestic Management.  Not unlike this Blog, in fact.

Anyhow, Lady Bountiful is a thoroughly annoying character and, I suspect, a man.  Nothing else could account for that peculiar mixture of utter confidence and total ignorance when it comes to housekeeping.  She knows nothing about everything, but spouts it anyway: Thirst, to prevent: In hot weather, eat plenty of fresh butter at breakfast.  Avoid drinking water as you would poison.  Alongside her antipathy to water, she has a worrying love of actual poisons: Chloride of lime has been found to be most effectual to rid a house of rats, mice, flies, wasps, and other similar annoyances. (She warns the housewife not to place this substance on her dresser, or the fumes will cause her china to lose its pattern!!)  Although entirely without medical training, she cites some thoroughly alarming remedies with the confidence of Dr Kildare: Creosote is said to be a remedy for sea-sickness.  (Note: DO NOT try this at home.)  Moreover, she gives credence to her madness by her own idiosyncratic interpretation of history, the recitation of increasingly gruesome anecdotes, and by peppering the narrative with the names of Famous Doctors whom we are obviously Supposed to Know.

That said, there may nevertheless be some useful things therein, and I intend gving it a more thorough read.  But for now I turn to the chapter Cookery for the Poor.  Be warned, that her recipes are vague to the point of being nonsensical, and much creativity may be needed to interpret them.  Nevertheless, having leafed past the recipes for  Sheep's Head Broth, and the disgusting-sounding Onion Porridge, I leave you with the slightly more palatable Rice Stew:

A red herring, or four ounces of lean bacon, cut in pieces; three onions; a few peppercorns, thyme, and parsley; boiled in three pints of water three quarters of an hour, with one pound of clean-picked whole rice.*  When it boils, set the pot by the side of the fire: the rice will swell, take up all the water, and become quite soft.  If properly done, it will weigh nearly five pounds, and will dine five men, as it frequently did in the year of scarcity, 1800.  If the rice is not sufficiently soft, add a little more water as it stands by the fire.

* yes, you are right, this makes no sense: do you boil the rice for three quarters of an hour, or just bring it to the boil and then let it sit?  I suggest frying off the fish or bacon, the onions, and the spices, then adding the water, rice, and thyme, and cooking until the water is absorbed.  Then stir in the parsley, and serve. 

Oh, and you might want to adjust quantities!

Today's Expenditure: 30p

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